Despite the warning issued last month in the wake of seven Seattle area needle deaths in a few days, which were followed by seven more deaths this week in the Longview-Kelso area - all 14 attributed to unusually potent or lethally laced heroin - King County officials now say they've found no proof that the seven deaths here were in fact due to a high purity of the drug.
"After an investigation," Public Health spokesperson Hilary Karasz tells us, "the King County Medical Examiner concluded that there is no evidence to suspect that the people who overdosed died from a batch of heroin that was unusually potent or more dangerous than it usually is."
Blood tests did not indicate anything unusual, she says, which would have been the case if the heroin was more pure than expected.
"The heroin samples that were retrieved had different physical characteristics indicating it wasn't from a common source, and there was nothing that tied the individuals together that might have suggested they got the heroin from a common source," Karasz says.
In addition, the seven who died overdosed from a combination of heroin and other drugs, tests show.
The department's drug-bulletin alert, warning users to beware of possible potency and poisons, was issued March 6 after a three-day spike in heroin deaths. But it now looks as if the link was the coincidental timing of those deaths. As Karasz puts it, "the spike over that short period of time may have been due to chance."
Nonetheless, she adds in an e-mail, "their deaths do underscore that heroin is a dangerous drug: Sixty-six people died from heroin overdose in King County in 2011. People should refrain from using heroin, but if they do, it's critically important that they never mix heroin with any other drug and never shoot alone."
Narcan (nalozone) can also save a life in the event of an overdose, and is available at the Downtown Needle Exchange program and elsewhere in the community. As well, if 911 has to be called, the state's Good Samaritan law protects bystanders and users from prosecution when emergency and police crews respond, and small amounts of drugs are present, Karasz says.